Like most Georgia business owners, you probably know you could face civil penalties such as fines if you violate environmental laws enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, did you know you could also face criminal charges?
The EPA has special agents that conduct criminal investigations. These agents are dispatched through reports from concerned citizens and/or victims or when especially egregious and harmful violations occur.
What types of violations warrant a criminal investigation?
A violation rises to criminal activity when it involves knowing or willful violations, which do not occur due to a mistake or accident, but instead due to a deliberate act. Negligence could also rise to the level of criminal under certain circumstances. Recognizing the types of violations and circumstances that could lead to a criminal investigation could help you stay out of trouble. Below is a list of the most often seen signs that a violation occurred that could lead to criminal charges:
- The presence of leaking and corroding waste containers
- An unusual, offensive or strong chemical odor
- Evidence that someone is dumping containers or drums in out-of-the-way places or during odd hours
- The presence of large numbers of dead fish, birds or other animals
- The presence of oily slicks on the surface of a body of water
- Valves or pipes that appear to bypass waste management systems or appear hidden
- Evidence of tank trucks discharging into manholes, drains or bodies of water
A report of one or more of the above actions could result in a visit from EPA special agents. If they arrive at your business, you may want to contact an attorney right away. Their presence usually means an investigation is underway.
Could you and your business be in trouble?
Many environmental laws at every level of government have criminal provisions. If you are not aware of them, you could inadvertently violate them. Moreover, a seemingly credible complaint from someone else could initiate an investigation against your company regardless of whether your business actually violated the environmental law in question. They say that knowledge is power, and that applies to environmental laws as much as to anything else.
Even if you have been in business for some time, laws change often. If you fail to keep up with the changes and any new laws that may apply to your industry, you could end up on the wrong side of a civil or criminal investigation for an alleged violation of federal, state or local law. Working with an attorney experienced in environmental law could help you keep from facing any type of violation, and your legal advocate can represent you if accused of one.